Friday, March 26, 2010

How I Was Almost a Mormon for Six Years

My father is of French Canadian descent. His family on both sides had been Catholic for generations. Shortly after his twelfth birthday, his family relocated from their New England home to south Florida. At that point, my father would have been the oldest of seven children. My grandparents had recently lost a baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. My grandmother's understandable difficulty in dealing with the loss of her three-month-old baby, in addition to her issues with what is now known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (I don't know if the condition had yet been given a name), caused my grandfather to look for a position in an area with a sunnier climate.

The new locale apparently cured what ailed my grandmother, but my father was never thrilled with The Land of Sunshine. One drawback for him was the dearth of ice skating rinks and youth ice hockey programs. Another even more unsettling change for him was the new religion that was forced upon him a couple of years later following a visit by two young men in suits who rode up to my grandparents' home on bicycles. My father was never quite comfortable either with Florida or with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ever the dutiful eldest son, he kept most of his discontent to himself. He did insist upon continuing to attend the Catholic high school in which he was enrolled at the time of the family's conversion, but he otherwise did everything that was expected of him, which included serving a two-year mission in South America and acquiring a Bachelor of Science from the Lord's University, otherwise known as BYU.

When my father completed his four-year degree (in three years of university attendance) without having married, his parents were mildly concerned about what other Mormons in their area thought. When he chose the University of California Medical School over the University of Utah, their concern had evolved to full-blown distress. By the time my father announced to them that he was marrying a Catholic student finishing up her doctoral studies in clinical and educational psychology, they were so shaken that they virtually kidnapped him to stage some sort of make-shift deprogramming/intervention. Nevertheless, they couldn't hold him against his will in their vacation cabin forever, and were eventually forced to allow him to leave.

The wedding happened in Nebraska without the presence of either of my father's parents or any of his ten surviving siblings. Out of embarrassment over her sister's virtual disownment of a son, one of my father's aunts and her husband, whom he hadn't seen since he was thirteen, flew from New England to Nebraska to sit in the place of his parents, and were the sole representatives from my father's side of the family. My mother, the youngest of seven children, had more than enough relatives present to make up for the lack of participation on my father's side. That's the way it's mostly been since then.

My father and mother finished medical school and graduate school respectively. When my father was in his second year of a residency in oncology and hematology, my mother gave birth to twins boys at just twenty-two weeks of gestation. Neither twin survived. My father's parents' response to my parents' loss of their first-born twins was to send pamphlets on how families could be together forever. My father says that he suspects that it was his parents' vulnerability after losing a child that made them susceptible to the tactics employed by the young missionaries who showed up on their doorstep in Florida. My father, on the other hand, having served a mission himself, wasn't so likely to be sold on the approach. The pamphlets were tossed out by my father before my mother could see them.

Twenty-one months later, my brother and I were born. My brother was a robust six pounds, nine ounces, while I weighed in at just two pounds, four ounces. Despite my small size, I was strong enough from the outset that the pediatricians were confident I would be fine. They examined placentas and other evidence to determine a reason for the disparity in weights. They had agreed that the problem must have been superfetation, which occurs when a woman continues to ovulate and conceives again after having conceived in an earlier month. My mother, on the other hand, knew this not to be the case. Since the onset of menstruation, she had experienced pain with each occurrence of ovulation. In many cycles, she felt the pain of ovulation more than once. The first time she conceived, she knew it would be twins before the doctors confirmed it. With her second pregnancy, doctors insisted she was not carrying twins until her fourth month, but she knew otherwise; an ultrasound eventually confirmed her predictions. My parents, both the products of large families, made a conscious decision to keep their family size small and chose not to have any more children after us, but my mother says that roughly one month out of four she experiences multiple ovulations.

My mother's parents had both died by the time my brother and I were born, so we never knew our grandparents from her side of the family, but we had lots of great- aunts and great-uncles, aunts and uncles, and cousins. My mother's sisters and sisters-in-law took turns staying with us until my mother was strong enough to care for us on her own. Each of my mother's siblings had traveled from wherever they lived in the U. S. to visit us by the time we were a month old. In contrast, not one of my father's relatives had seen us until my parents took us to Utah, where my grandparents had moved from Florida, when we were eight months old. We didn't see them again until we were two and they offered to babysit us so that my parents could ski without us for a weekend.

My father now says that he was really naive not to have been suspicious when his parents offered to care for us for an entire weekend while my parents skied. One of his parents' pet peeves, he said, had been that my parents so regularly failed to "keep the Sabbath Day holy." With Catholics (my father had returned to his original faith after marrying my mother, although he now views all religion with some skepticism) as long as they attend mass, they consider themselves compliant on this count. Where Mormons are concerned, not only are they obligated to attend a three-hour block of church services; their entire Sunday is restricted to holy stuff. My grandparents certainly wouldn't have aided and abetted my parents in doing anything off the approved list without something up their sleeves.

I can recall things from when I was very young, and I believe that I have a vague recollection of having been blessed, although my father insists it's the power of suggestion and that I can't possibly possess actual memories of the occasion. Usually newborns are blessed in the LDS church, so it's somewhat unusual for a two-year-old child to be paraded before the congregation for what is usually a "father's" blessing of a baby two months old or younger, but for whom someone other than the father does the honors when the father is not "worthy" to perform the rite. It was my grandfather who said the actual blessings for us, although several uncles by blood and by marriage stood in the circle with their hands on us. (They may have kept it a secret from my parents, but the LDS faction of the family was in on the secret and showed up in full force.) I think I remember that they were unsure of the protocol in blessing toddlers. When it's an infant that is blessed, the father holds it and the others place their hands usually under its body. My brother was fairly tall for his age; I'm sure I remember someone carrying out a chair from the table where "The Sacrament"("communion" for the rest of Christendom)was customarily prepared. They sat my brother on the chair and placed their hands on his head. He was typically docile and cooperative throughout the blessing. Then it was my turn. This part I'm absolutely certain I can remember, as I can recall being traumatized by the experince.although my father is doubtful of my claims of early memories here as well. I was roughly half the weight of my brother, so my uncles held me with their hands, which was just as well, because I probably wouldn't have stayed on the chair if they'd put me there, and they would have had to chase a screaming toddler who ran out of their chapel. What I remember is being grasped all over my body by hands of men related to me but whom I really didn't know. Their hands were so large and my body was so tiny that there wasn't really enough of me for each of them to grasp. The sensible thing for them to have done would have been to have one or two of the uncles sit this one out, but for some reason they all wanted a part in this unsanctioned blessing. I can remember struggling and screaming in that ear-splitting way that only a two-year-old can accomplish for the duration of the blessing. My grandfather tried to talk over my screams, but it's unlikely that anyone in the congregation heard a word he said. I must have exhausted myself so much from struggling and screaming that I slept through the rest of the three-hour block, because I have no memory of anything else happening at church that day. Apart from the symbolic nature of the occasion, the major significance of the "blessing" each of us received is that we were, at that point, LDS children of record.

Fast-forward to two years later, when the Primary (LDS children's organization) President of the California ward in which we resided at the time called to find out why the twins had not attended Primary yet. My mother had no idea what the lady was talking about. My mother asked my father about it when he came home that night. A few hours and phone calls later, it was sorted out. My father was so enraged that he vowed never to speak to either of his parents again. My mother was, as is her nature, more philosophical about the entire affair. She thought my grandparents probably did the wrong thing for all the right reasons. Furthermore, she felt that it was a meaningless gesture unless she and my father chose to lend meaning to it. It did mean that each time we moved, which was several times in those early years, one of my parents would have to explain to some well-meaning Latter-day Saint who was unlucky enough to be assigned the task of checking up on us, that my brother and I were blessed without my parents' knowledge and that we weren't actually LDS children.

When my brother and I turned eight, my parents heightened security with regard to us and dad's side of the family (who did, after all, more or less kidnap my dad before he married my mom) to ensure that we wouldn't be carried off to some remote location to be baptized. I'm not sure if there were any attempts, but I do remember my dad calling my grandparents when he thought we were asleep and telling them that he would press kidnapping charges if they as much as pointed either of us in the direction of a mud puddle.

When the direct approach was unsuccessful, my grandparents tried the indirect approach of having the children of local Mormons befriend us. After I ran away from the parking lot of a local Mormon ward meetinghouse upon arriving there with the family of a child with whom I had spent a Saturday night, my parents became very protective, and wouldn't allow us to go to the home of any other child without thoroughly checking the family out. In the climate of even ten years ago, this was something they probably should have been doing in the first place, Mormonism nothwithstanding.

In any event, my brother and I have reached the age of sixteen without having been dunked, Mormon style. Sometimes when I'm really upset with my father, I will wait until he thinks I'm over whatever is bothering me, then I'll mention that I'm seriously considering seeking out my Mormon roots. My father used to take the bait and become very upset at any mention of my associating with Mormons, but lately he's grown wiser to my ploys. The last time I brought up the topic, he suggested that conventional Mormonism is probably too mainstream for my tastes, and that I might be happier with an offshoot organization, such as Warren Jeffs' FLDS church. Though I was highly tempted to give him a prominent display of my middle finger, I resisted the urge, because I'm not a complete moron.

5 comments:

  1. Do you have a problem with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? It sounds like it. You should get more correct information before you defame a church. or go to the Church's official website www.mormon.org

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous, do YOU have a problem?

    No. Let me re-phrase that. Anonymous, you do have a problem. In point of fact, you have several problems.

    Displaying them does not make you seem very attractive at all.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow! What a story! I tend to agree that the reason your grandparents converted had to do with all the stress they were under. Losing a baby, dealing with depression, moving to a new area... that's a recipe for susceptibility to religious conversion. So glad your dad was smart enough to think for himself.

    Anonymous recommends you visit www.mormon.org? I recommend you visit www.exmormon.org. I think you'd fit right in, if you're not already there!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I visit exmormon.org to read but don't usually post. My uncle posts there.

    I was necrodunked once when I was spending a summer in Utah. This was several years ago. One uncle was a bishop and another was a stake president. Both of them thought I had been baptized -- they thought I was lying to them when I said I hadn't been baptized to avoid having to go on the trip to Manti, and the bishop uncle didn't trust me at home by myself all day-- and were able to come up with a temple recommend even without a membership number. Then again, maybe I had a membership number from having been blessed. I don't even know the technicalities of how what should never have happened actually did happen).

    Some dead person will have one day to be rebaptized by proxy or for rel after the millenium or the resurrection because my uncles wouldn't listen to me when I insisted I had never been baptized. The sin would be on their heads except that it's all just a lot of hocus pocus mumbo jumbo anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Dead people," not merely a single "dead person," would have to be rebaptized, as I was dunked for far more repetitions than girls are usually dunked because of my light weight and because I had no figure that would display itself under the wet clothing after being dunked too many times.

    ReplyDelete